BUTHA-BUTHE, Lesotho (AP) — While millions across Europe are sweating through a summer of record heat, they are skiing in Africa.
Do not worry. This is not another sign of climate change, but rather the fascinating anomaly of Lesotho, a small mountain kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho has an obscure geographic claim to fame: It is the only country on earth where every inch of its territory is more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level.
It gives Lesotho snow in the southern hemisphere winters. And while cold winters are not rare in southern Africa, snow and ski resorts are even rarer. At an altitude of 3,000 meters (9,842 ft), Afriski in Lesotho’s Maluti Mountains is Africa’s only ski resort south of the equator.
“I’ve never seen snow in my entire life,” said Kafi Mojapelo, who traveled the short distance from South Africa for a skiing holiday she never thought she would take. “So this is a great experience.”
Bafana Nadida, who hails from the sprawling urban township of Soweto in Johannesburg, was thrilled to put on ski boots for the first time. He planned a day of ski lessons, taking pictures and just playing in the snow.
Skiers and snowboarders lined up to rent the right equipment. Some got tips from Hope Ramokotjo, who is from Lesotho and has worked as a self-taught ski and snowboard instructor for 12 years. His broad smile and deep, reassuring voice put beginners at ease.
“Push your heals out. Don’t shrug,” Ramokotjo shouted to his class of eager but inexperienced African skiers as they wobbled on the snow. Nice!”
Afriski’s Kapoko Snow Park is the only freestyle snow park on the continent. Competitors lined up last month for the annual Winter Whip Slopestyle snowboarding and skiing competition. Sekholo Ranotsi, a 13-year-old from the Lesotho town of Butha-Buthe who regularly practices Afriski, won the junior snowboard and ski divisions.
“I would really like to ski in Europe,” he said.
London-born Meka Lebohang Ejindu said he has been teaching skiing and snowboarding in Austria for more than a decade and this is his first season in the southern hemisphere. He has family roots in Lesotho.
“For a competition like this to happen in southern Africa is so heartwarming,” he said.
Afriski may not be on par with Europe’s huge alpine destinations, but the love of winter sports is catching on.
At Afriski’s Sky Restaurant and Gondola Cafe, happy hour starts at 10.00, and skiers and pensioners show off their winter fashion and party to house music with beer in hand. Some claim the bar is the highest in Africa, although it is challenged by Sani Mountain Lodge, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the east on the border between Lesotho and South Africa.
What no one can dispute is that this crowd went skiing in Africa.